Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that discipleship was about finding one mentor who could, with his wit and wisdom, heal my wounds and bring me closer to Jesus.

I thought there’d be notebooks, coffee, and in-depth Bible studies. I imagined he’d be older, wiser, and profoundly interested in my life. Maybe you’ve found that kind of person—if so, great.

But here is what actually happened: I was discipled by the church. My regular old normal church. I showed up and heard sermons. I attended classes and groups and get-togethers.

Teaching by Doing

In third grade, I saw my Sunday school teacher, Bud Whitlow, write a check for what seemed an insane amount of money, and give it to the church. I watched him write that check every Sunday for as long as he was my teacher. (Bud let his son, Steven, and me blow up milk jugs with a 12-gauge on his property outside of town.)

In sixth grade, Mrs. Amanda Jordan told me to read my Bible for myself, not just to listen to others do it. Then someone else taught me how. Then someone else told me to look for the narrative thread of salvation history in both Old and New Testaments.

In eighth grade, a young dad from church took me to visit the sick people and showed me how to pray with them. Sometimes he’d tell me to jump in his truck and take me to visit the people who were new to the church. He’d always put on his ball cap to drive and take it off when we were about to go inside. A few times people prayed to be Christians when we went to their home.

When I was a high-school freshman, my dad was my pastor. He took me and some men from my church to a pastor’s conference in Jacksonville, Florida, and we listened to sermons for two days. We drank coffee between sessions. I felt like a grown man.

Another man not much older than me volunteered to lead our youth group at church and taught me how to ask my friends if they wanted to be Christians. A few times I did.

I played football for Coach Wesley Dicks at Keystone Heights High School. He was also a deacon at our church and showed me how to live a godly life as a public figure in a small town. He probably thought I wasn’t paying attention, because by then I had started hiding my faith and acting like an unbeliever at school.

Time of Straying

When I landed in a South Carolina college and began avoiding her altogether, the church still had my heart.

I did my best to ignore Don Wilton’s sermons, but I still attended his church in Spartanburg with my girlfriend.

One of the leaders at our school, Rick Brewer, encouraged, cajoled, and bribed me to take my connection to the church seriously, but I transferred schools and left the state instead. (I always assumed he saw through my Christian charade. There was no hiding my love for the world.)

My brother and I moved to Shawnee, Oklahoma together. Since I was new in town, a pastor I’d never met came to visit our apartment and invited us to church. I tried to make him feel stupid. He walked away angry with me, but I closed the door knowing the church still wanted me. (Of course, this Baptist pastor probably thought it was a waste of his Saturday morning to knock on my door. But it was actually a part of my discipleship.)

Open Arms

Eventually, I returned to the church and found her happy to take me back.

A volunteer opened the door and smiled. A very kind older woman asked me to fill out a card and gave me a gift with the church logo on it. They put me in a group with people my age. Guys my age encouraged me to give 10 percent of my paycheck. The young-couples class discovered I could teach and gave me the opportunity.

I had treated the church so badly, yet the church eagerly encouraged me to pursue leadership.

Individually they were less than what I needed, but corporately they were Christ’s body bringing me to maturity.

Sometimes older, wiser men would cross my path and take an interest in me, but none of those guys possessed all of the spiritual gifts. I learned they’re just men.

If I was hoping for a spiritual guru or all-in-one spiritual guide, father, and pastor, they failed. But as parts of Christ’s body, they did their job.

These were good men, each deficient in some way. Individually they were less than what I needed, but corporately they were the body bringing me to maturity.

God never gave me a spiritual father who would play Paul to my Timothy, but I’m not sure that’s very common anyway.

Instead he gave me his very body. I was discipled by the church.